I’ve been writing this blog in my head since Thursday, when my encounters with people on the phone reinforced both my passion about The Phone Lady and my empathy for those of you that hesitate to “Pick it up. Make things happen!”

As many of you know, I do take on special projects from time to time, working with others to achieve a goal by making calls, getting information out to the right people. This past week I’ve been making calls into the Greater Toronto Area, contacting communications executives at large corporations, public relations companies and municipal offices. The last time I made this many calls into Toronto was about 5 years ago – and things have changed.

Now it’s important to realize that I consider Toronto “home” in many ways. I wasn’t born and raised there, but I moved there at the age of 19, stayed for 20 years and it is definitely where I did most of my growing up. I started my first business there and the majority of my clients were busy Toronto executives. I return to Toronto at least once each year; it is a city that means a lot to me.

I tell you all this so that you know I’m not intimidated by it, not in anyway.

But this past week, I experienced the rudest behaviour I have encountered in years. I think the last time people treated me with such disdain was 23 years ago when my confidence level on the phone was tenuous and I was probably a wee bit annoying.

This breaks my heart (and I’m not exaggerating!). First, it reinforces Toronto’s reputation as being unfriendly and mean, which I know from experience it isn’t. And it points to the fact that we, as a society, are abandoning our civility and our ability – and need – to communicate. It makes me very sad.

About six or seven years ago I did a phone project for a company in the U.S. It involved contacting senior executives at large insurance companies and having a fairly detailed conversation. It was hard work, filled with encounters with rude and stressed people – and phone systems that, quite simply, denied me access to anyone. But I completed the project successfully. I found a way to cajole, get around, make contact. And I held on to the experience, used it to inform the creation of The Phone Lady and hoped that this kind of behaviour would not be embraced by Canadians.

Well, it has and I take it as a bad omen. Laugh if you will, but the fact that some of Canada’s Toronto-based companies are aggressively keeping out new ideas, rudely ending conversations, completely denying access to staff – how can this possibly be good for growth, for the achievement of excellence, for our progress as human beings?

Yet it is rampant. One company’s website hails it as a powerhouse of new ideas and communication, on the leading edge of creativity, but it doesn’t even have a phone number – anywhere!

I realize this is about control. That everyone is so busy, so pressured to multi-task and balance, that they are trying to control something. By not taking calls they are not expecting, that don’t fit in with their immediate priority or deadline, they avoid some distractions, protect some precious minutes of each day. But this keeps ideas out and proliferates, and accepts as professional, rude, unkind, horrid behaviour to others. Perhaps there could be less time on Facebook or Twitter instead?

On a positive note for me, having these experiences will inform my teaching, increase my empathy for those who fear cold calling. I’ve collected great audio examples of tough phone calls and how to handle them, which will add to the entertainment value of my workshops.

And not everyone was rude. I did have great conversations with many people, reconnected with some folks I hadn’t talked to in ages. To these people I say “thank you”, thanks for not embracing what I believe is a destructive side effect of our technological age.

Coincidentally, on Friday, I received a letter from my cellphone company and it reinforced what I perceive to be the “insane” attitude we are perpetuating about telephone communication.

Rogers is introducing a trademark service called Live Agent for small business customers. It allows you to – no word of a lie, I have the letter right in front of me – “Speak to a person, not a machine.”

The letter ends with the following statement “And remember, Live Agent is the latest innovation from Rogers – offered at no extra charge to small business customers.”

Oh my – have we really moved so far away from the telephone that now speaking to a person is an innovation? That’s so sad! And if I read between the lines here, I perceive that talking to a real person might just start costing us money some day. More sadness.

I do think we all play a part in preventing this from happening. It is up to each of us to defend and protect our right, our need, to communicate with others on the telephone.

Obviously, I could go on and on about this but I’ll stop for now and leave you with a quote that arrived in my inbox this week. May it inform your coming week and beyond:

“It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than “try to be a little kinder.”
-Aldous Huxley, novelist (1894-1963)

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One Comment

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